The future of the former Kinsmen Centre at the corner of Lakeshore and Colborne Roads will once be discussed at Sarnia City Council this coming Monday.
In January, City staff proposed a development plan that would rezone the land from “open space” to “urban residential” and amend the Official Plan to allow the Kinsmen Centre to be replaced with houses.
But Council asked staff to put that proposal on hold for six months, allowing for more public consultation after being presented with a 300-signature petition condemning the plan.
Among the concerns expressed in the petition were the precedent-setting sale of parkland.
Now, after four community meetings and 74 responses to online consultations, the matter is going back to Council.
In 2015, growing mould and a leaking roof forced the City-owned Kinsmen Centre to close. Since then, the building has sat vacant and was declared city surplus last July when a report showed repairing the former school would cost approximately $250,000.
The building, a former public school, sits on a two-acre lot that backs onto Baxter Park, a six-acre plot of City greenspace. Although the park and Kinsmen Centre are two separate lots, some residents and Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley are of the opinion that it has always been part of the park.
“People will say it’s not part of [Baxter] park, but it is part of the park and it always has been,” said Bradley, who said he would not want to see the sale and development of any City parkland.
The City’s plan offers two concepts to replace the former community centre. One would see a cul-du-sac off Lakeshore Road allowing for as many as nine houses to be constructed. The other option would see five houses be built fronting Lakeshore.
In a July 10 report, City staff say any improvements to the building would be too costly and the residential development fits with the mandate of the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Community groups and concerned citizens have come up with three development plans of their own. The first proposes a complete repair of the Kinsmen Centre and the addition of a picnic pavilion; the second asks for a partial repair of the building and a new pavilion. Both plans are estimated to cost $500,000.
The third proposal would see the building demolished, replacing it with a new meeting place and picnic shelter at a cost of $250,000. The Kinsmen and community members have expressed a willingness to fundraise for the project, according to the report.
Sarnia resident and Baxter Park neighbour Patrick Marcella is expected to speak at Council on Monday and said this is an opportunity to improve the park rather than fill it with houses.
“We’ve already has unsolicited offers to help fundraising,” said Marcella. “We believe we can start a strong fundraising campaign.”
He added that he hopes City Council doesn’t rush to sell the land.
“They’re not going to go bankrupt if they don’t sell two-acres of this park,” Marcella said.